Sunday, July 26, 2009

Country At Conclave: Thanks to former R&R Editor Paul Heine for his coverage of the Country panel I was privileged to moderate:

Thursday, July 16, 2009
How To Upset The Status Quo

MINNEAPOLIS –The annual Conclave radio conference opened up Thursday afternoon (July 16) with a textbook story of how old-school, street-level warfare can still damage entrenched competitors, especially in today’s environment of cutbacks and limited resources. Ron Allen PD at country KVWF (the Wolf)/Wichita, told the tale of how, in February 2008, Connoisseur Media signed on as the market’s seventh country station and how the Wolf has since defeated all but two of them. In the winter 2009 Arbitron ratings, KVWF is one-tenth of a share away from the market’s No. 2 country outlet.

Renegade branding, complete with on-air howls and a 25-foot inflatable wolf for appearances, made the station stand out, Allen said. Instead of another lackluster station van, Wolf staffers drive a bright orange truck – with paw prints all over it.

“We blind-sided the competition; they weren’t expecting the full court press,” Allen told attendees at the Country Cage Match session, moderated by Joel Raab, president of Joel Raab Associates. “We came in with the attitude that every event will be challenged.”

As the last one to the dance, KVWF had to improvise to put its paw prints on concerts and other events traditionally dominated by its established competitors. When the Wolf was told it could not participate in an event at the 10,000-capacity Kansas Coliseum, the station set up large displays at three main access points to the venue, giving it what Allen called “high visibility.”

Don Jacobs, market manager/VP of the Results Radio cluster in Sioux Falls S.D., also shared war stories from a new country sign-on. When Garth Brooks came to town for six sell-outs, Jacobs distributed 6,000 Brooks masks with the station’s Kickin’ Country logo printed on the back. “When you’re in later than everyone else, you have to take a different approach,” he said.

Mark Phillips, PD at the nation’s first Wolf – Cumulus Media’s KPLX/ Dallas – bemoaned that many stations don’t excel at the basics: “Everybody is short-staffed, resources are limited, but I still hear a lot of basics that aren’t being done right, starting with the music.” Remarkably, Phillips pulls a four-hour afternoon shift in radio’s fifth largest market. “People think I’m crazy but you need to lead by example.” The strategy appears to be working: KPLX is No. 2 in the market among listeners 6+ in Arbitron’s June PPM report with a cume of 1.2 million.

Phillips says his day starts at 5 a.m., taking notes on the morning show, monitoring the competition, working on the music. By two in the afternoon, it’s show prep time. In between, he says he makes a lot of time for communicating with the airstaff. “When people are insecure about their jobs, you need to make them feel important. There’s a difference between leading and managing.”

Country Radio Broadcasters executive director Ed Salamon shared 10 programming strategies from his tenure at WHN/New York in the ‘70s.

“The country life group in New York wasn’t obvious,” he said. (The No. 1 radio market has since gone decades without a full-signaled country outlet.) So Salamon had to “find out exactly what it was about country music that made sense for our listeners” and that included not using the word “country” in on-air imaging. “We used a lot of listener voices on the air, taking advantage of all the beautifully unique accents, from Long Island to the Bronx to New Jersey. And we campaigned like politicians to win listeners over one at a time.”